Margaret Atwood's name stands beside the first quote on the back cover of The Echo-Maker by Richard Powers. The book teaser offers a tale about a 27-year old Nebraska man who's seriously injured in a car accident. The teaser explains that although the man's sister (his only living relative) rushes to tend to him, he considers her an impostor. It turns out he's suffering from a rare mental disorder called Capgrass Syndrome. The sister calls on the nation's leading neurological expert to help her brother. Etc, etc.
Based on these first few sentences alone, I thought The Echo-Maker was a book I would enjoy. It won the 2006 National Book Award, and was a finalist for the 2007 the Pulitzer Prize.
I was disappointed.
The writing, overall, is beautiful. Perhaps a little too beautiful. It's lyrical and profound, filled with description, metaphor, observations about nature. The information - from the natural migration of cranes to the intricacies of brain function - is sound, presented intelligently but not condescendingly.
Still, I didn't care for the book. Every 50 pages or so I would think, "Hmm. Maybe it gets good in the next chapter." Mind you, I'm not a plot-driven, need racy sex and action kind of reader. But the pace of this book is plodding, its characterization shaky at best (particularly in the case of the female characters. Powers just can't seem to write them authentically.) And by the end of the novel, I wanted my three and a half hours or so back.
What the book did accomplish was to prompt me to look into the Pulitzer Prizes and their criteria. As I browsed through winners by year, I was struck at how unlike the judges my choices are. The prizes seem slightly arbitrary to me, slightly a case of each discipline patting itself on the back. Very cliquey, very inner-circle. Of course, most awards are this way; I simply hadn't known the story behind these awards. You can read about it here..
OTHER REVIEWERS: Sandra at Fresh Ink Books
ALSO READ: The child-labor revolt story of the Newsboys Strike of 1899, a chapter in Joseph Pulitzer's history that goes unmentioned at the Pulitzer Prize site.